SPACES OF BELONGING
A selection of photographs of a house nestled in an Art Deco-style building in a leafy by-lane in Mumbai brings forth the vividly tactile and spatial qualities that go beyond a vacuous built environment and focuses instead on the life that inhabits the space
Kaiwan Mehta: What led you to this photographic exploration of your own house, designed a while ago?
Samira Rathod: Photographs are an extension of our real experiences, lived at some moment, and these moments then preserved in print to reminiscence that time in space. When pictures of homes are presented without people, they seem like empty carcasses; hollow and lifeless, as if the space’s only objective was to be showcased, the space itself objectified. With this photo essay, I have reversed the narrative, which whilst makes the space its subject, but not without the suggestion of life inhabiting it.
Homes are a reflection of the owners’ personality, and its paraphernalia creates the backdrop for its characters and the performance of daily routine. Design enhances this performance, transforming its banality into the extraordinary of the ordinary, in some sort of a hyperbolic metaphor. Showing pictures without people is like looking at a stage set at the beginning of play, when the curtains are just being drawn up and the lights have come on, the cacophony of the audience slowly hushing down to that weighed silence of
anticipation, waiting for the act to begin but instead that’s where the play ends; as if, that itself was the act!
I didn’t want the house to be merely seen as an outside act, of objects arranged for a still life painting, but instead a museum of memories; a collection of small stories, of our home and the way we have nestled into it and the way it cocoons us all — cuddled like a baby in grandma’s allencompassing cradled lap.
Every act is a conversation, the speaker and the listener constantly switching roles. As architects, we often tend to forget that our buildings and its occupants have a life and a voice of their own, and that we are always in conversation with them. Making houses is like raising a child who, with time, begins to breathe its own life, and fill all our living moments.
The house is a dynamic, always-changing fluid composition that enables life itself.
KM: The photos produce a spatial journey through the house — was this a review of your own design ideas?
SR: Yes. My design processes do not begin with
a set of loose adjectives that describe its various objects, but rather like a dreamy act of being within it, a haiku; an imagination of desires transferred to an inception.
I like to think about how one will sleep; what is the first thing one sees when they wake up; what will the floor feel like to the bare feet; is the room quietening, or does it seek my constant attention; and so on with the many metaphors and poetic phrases of cinematic quality forming vignettes that are then melded seamlessly to make the built environment.
The house must fit me and all of us, like we would in our Sunday dress; casual, candid, unpretentious and easy. I like to think of it like writing a script, for every act, every frame defined, and made into a beautiful painting… such that the now-ness of routine moments is the primary agenda and all that should matter.
KM: There is a poetic and sensual approach in capturing the breadth and pulse of the spaces and the elements that articulate those spaces. Is this, in any way, a reflection on, or mirroring of, or reviewing your own design process?
SR: I believe that I have the birthright to enjoy all things beautiful, and that all things must only be beautiful. Here, ‘beautiful’ is that which is done well with efficacy and care. The programme and the proper operation that it facilitates is certainly a given. When we are able to add to it, that which invokes a higher experience, and engages our mind into another dialogue of interpretation, it is called design.
As an office we are committed to the idea of beauty, and strive and struggle to create beautiful experiences through the design of buildings, the spaces and the objects they will hold — to be used as a sensual experience — of touch, of light and dark, of sounds and smells; a composition of textural spatiality that is fluid and dynamic... A building is not architecture without poesy, and its primary programme is one to enunciate delight, to invoke and celebrate emotion, even if it is in melancholy. These pictures were taken to reiterate that idea, and communicate that process of design. The way we advocate living delightfully — as vivid compositions, like an unflinching sharp note of the crescendo that rises, resonates and reverberates, as if savouring taste of old wine.
KM: What is the journey of design — from the design process to a post-occupancy exploration of the design?
SR: Design is like creating a jazz composition.
A lot of instruments, several small phrases, sound experiments that slowly get strung, often unconventional, and set to an abstract metre that often has no predictable rhythm. The process, as the final experience of the design, is never linear, leading to a climax, but that which moves laterally, circumscribing perimeters of the spaces with an ability to revisit and recall both in process and experience. This involves rigorous drawing and redrawing, inspecting elements, measuring and qualifying every possible performance in the space, and adding that cinematic quality of the perfect scene in every possible use of the space.
Our work is infused with details, often one that may be judged as redundant if one was using optimum functionality and efficiency as the measuring yardstick, but not from that which we set ourselves to achieve — create delight in routine acts.
We hope to to create memories, to sediment layers of engagement over the palimpsest of ideas. We work to evolve in its final experience, not one simplistic discernible entity but a complex context that allows a sense of nostalgia.
This spread: Special care was taken in the detailing of every aspect of the home — including drawers, door knoobs and handles, and the edges and corners of the furniture — designed by The Big Piano
This spread: Located on the ground floor, and overlooking a garden surrounded by trees, the house is not merely a space that holds objects but that which captures the beauty and thrum of the quotidian
This spread: The photographs capture the play of light and shadows within the space, almost creating vignettes that meld seamlessly to make the built environment